There is a minor spoiler regarding the “romance” in the text below.
On an island mysteriously shrouded in mists, three triplets are born every generation. And every generation when they come of age, they have to kill their sisters or be killed themselves. Such is the world of Three Dark Crowns. Three Queens, each possessing a valuable magic, will soon turn 16. They are each sequestered in their towns and homes, training with their magic in order to present themselves as the strongest Queen and win the support of their people. As the days tick down, each begin to question their place on the island and what they’ve been told they must do for their entire life. Will they be able to confront the reality of killing their sisters when they still feel the lingering connections of their sisterly bond?
So much of Three Dark Crowns was spent building up to the main part of the story–which took place in the last third of the book–that not much happened in the way of conflict. As the story progresses, we learn more about the three sisters and the people around them–whether they are their adopted family, their advisers, or others vying for their attention and favor–but we don’t really learn much beyond that. Blake really built a world where you can feel the pressures that are on each girl and her companions, but the effect is that it creates three separate bubbles that don’t really interact with each other for the majority of the book. And that makes it dull. There are “rules” in place that says you can’t harm the other sisters until a certain time, but I have a hard time believing that they wouldn’t be more curious about each other. That they wouldn’t sneak out more.
Instead, we get a focus on them building their powers–which could be interesting, but I felt like there weren’t many times when we actually saw the powers happen. We’re told about them, of course, but when there’s an Elemental, a Naturalist, and a Poisoner, I expected more. Even with two of the sisters being weaker than the other, I didn’t feel like I got to see a lot of Mirabella’s Elemental nature.
The names alone conjure up power, but because two of the sisters are struggling to master their talents, every time I read their chapter I was kind of bored. There’s only so many times I can read about Katherine getting sick or Arsinoe being unable to call her familiar. Even though a lot of time was spent with them, I still kind of feel like I don’t really know much about them because the narrative kept going around in a circle.
That said, I really enjoyed how each of the groups were distinct. I liked reading about all of the different lifestyles they had and how they approached the upcoming struggle for the crown. I wish we were given more on that, because I think that was where the novel was the strongest. Even though each group was powerful with magic, there are alliances and betrayals forming behind the scenes. They’re partially shown to the reader but there’s still an element of unreliability because you don’t know how much of it is talk and how much of it is real.
For having an interesting premise and with the majority of the book spent building up to the climax of the novel, the world was surprisingly bare. Nothing really stood out from the world-building. It relied pretty heavily on the fact that it was a fantasy novel. I felt like I was expected to fill in the blanks with generic fantasy world building blocks. I hope that there are more details on the world and how the powers fit into it in the next novel.
Something that I loved about Three Dark Crowns is the amount of female characters who had important roles. While the bulk of the book did focus on the sisters, there were other female characters who also had political power. I enjoyed reading those parts where side characters were shown to be orchestrating much more than just the upcoming announcement of the Queens. Unfortunately for the book, because all of the side female characters were also strong, it really put light on the weakness of the protagonists. I found I was more interested in Jules, Arsinoe’s best friend, than I was in Arsinoe. It would have been a different book if it had been Jule’s point of view. I would have liked to see how “normal” people dealt with the upcoming Crown games.
The split between the three points of view caused a little bit of a problem for me. It didn’t help that it was also third person present tense, which I don’t think I had ever seen until this book. I don’t feel that I truly had a read on any of the characters until late in the novel, at which point I had already decided that I cared more about Jules than about any of the main three.
Romance was a problem in this book. I didn’t understand the main pairing, which didn’t really initially have anything to do with the three Queens. I usually don’t explicitly talk about spoilers in my reviews, but I feel I have to in this case. This is your last warning, if you care.
Spoilers in the next paragraphs:
I get that love triangles are a thing. It’s an extremely popular way to get your readers to continue reading your series as they hope that their preferred pairing is the end game. That is not what happened in this book. What happened is that a character who did nothing but be kind to everyone around her, including her boyfriend, was treated like garbage by the author. And then when the character had a chance to forge on alone, the author dragged her back into this toxic, damaging, and abusive relationship.
Jules and Joseph have known each other since they were children. When they finally reunite, they can’t spend a moment apart any longer. And that’s the way it works, for awhile. Aaannd then Joseph has to go off on business. And he nearly drowns when his boat capsizes. And he’s rescued by Mirabella, who just happens to be traveling at the same time. And naturally, the only way to “save” him, is to get naked and share body heat. And then, despite the fact that we’ve been told over and over just how much Jules and Joseph belong together, just how much they love each other, he up and has sex with this complete stranger because he thinks that it’s a dream. I cannot explain how much this just does not make any sort of sense at all. It’s absolutely ridiculous.
I was furious. I still am when I think about how the aftermath was handled. He doesn’t tell her right away, instead opting to lie. Then he tells her and breaks her heart, yet they’re still sort of together. Then when she finally decides that he’s not worth her time anymore she…changes her mind. Because even though he went off and unapologetically had sex with Mirabella multiple times in less than a 24 hour period (I can maybe maybe write off the first “I had sex with you because I thought it was a dream / thought I was dead,” but not the subsequent times), she still wants him to be her first. What. He’s an asshole. Just ugh. I could write so much more on how angry this “triangle” makes me, but then it would become even more of a rant. To Joseph: You knew her for like a day! Jeez! To Jules: Not worth it. He doesn’t care about you.
It’s not often that I read a twist and legitimately like it. I actually didn’t see it coming (or at least, not quite the entire thing), and I thought it was a brilliant way of using the last pages of the novel to really pull in the readers for the sequel. It makes complete sense in the world of the narration, although I also am struggling with the fact that it was missed in the first place. I couldn’t quite suspend my disbelief. However, I will be finishing the series because I do want to know what will happen to all of our characters. So good job on pulling me in, Kendare Blake. I’m so glad this is a duology and not a trilogy or more.